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Characteristics of Vintage Marble Knives

Gail Sessoms

In 1892, Webster Marble started Gladstone Manufacturing Co. in Gladstone, Michigan, to produce his universal rifle sight, the first of his many inventions. Marble also designed and manufactured compasses, matchboxes and pocket axes, but his hunting knives are his most significant invention to collectors of vintage knives. The characteristics of vintage Marble knives were original to the cutlery industry and would become the standard in producing quality outdoor knives.

Marble Knives

Marble introduced the convex blade shape.

Marble manufactured different types of hunting knives. Marble knives were deemed so superior to other knives that Charles Lindbergh carried a Marble knife and other Marble creations on his famous 1927 transatlantic flight. The British army purchased Marble hunting knives in 1916, and the U.S. Navy purchased hundreds of Marble’s survival knives in 1958. Collectors look for several characteristics of vintage knives, such as manufacturing marks, the type of steel used in the blade, the material used to make the handle, whether the knife is a fixed blade or pocket knife, and the all-important blade grind.

The Ideal

The Marble knife named the Ideal, which was created in 1898, was the first outdoor knife designed and manufactured for use by hunters and other outdoorsmen. Before the creation of Marble knives, homemade knives and kitchen knives were the standard outdoor cutlery tools. Marble designed a thicker blade, about 3/16-inch thick, made of carbon steel and added a wide groove called a fuller along the blade’s length. The fuller decreased the overall weight of the knife without detracting from the strength of the blade. The knife had a brass guard and handle constructed of stacked leather rings. The handle pommel was made of aluminum or stag. The Ideal’s design changed the cutlery industry and was copied by other manufacturers.

Blade Grind

Vintage Marble knives are most often associated with the convex blade grind, the grind most common when knives were made by craftsmen and until the introduction of mass-production in the 20th century. The blade grind, which determines the type of tasks the blade can perform well, is seen when the blade is examined in profile. The convex knife blade narrows to a sharply pointed tip. The flat end of the blade sports grooves or indentations near the blade tip.

Other Vintage Marble Models

In 1906, the lightweight Expert model Marble knife replaced the thick blade of the Ideal with a thin blade. The best-selling and widely copied Woodcraft, introduced in 1915 and adopted by the Boy and Girl Scouts as their official knife, also had a thinner blade. The Expert, the Woodcraft and the later Fieldcraft retained the signature stacked leather ringed handle, brass guard and the pommel made of stag or aluminum. Marble knives were sold with leather sheaths. Some models, such as pocket knives, were sold with pearl handles.

Manufacturer Marks

Vintage Marble knife collectors look for the manufacturer marks stamped on early versions of the knives. Early Marble catalogs display the company’s knives with an “MSA” stamp or “W.R Case” stamp. Some Marble knives have the “MSA Gladstone, Michigan” stamp, which was used from 1893 to around the time of World War I. some early Woodcraft models have a marking that reads “PAT’D 1916 U.S.A,” noting the patent for the shape of the knife.